Monday, July 4, 2016

FULL REVIEW: Wonder Woman, No. 1 (August 2016)

Wonder Woman, No. 1 — August 2016.
Standard cover by Liam Sharp and Laura
Martin. © DC Comics.
WONDER WOMAN, No 1
Publisher: DC Comics
Brand: DC Universe Rebirth
Cover date: August 2016
On-sale: June 22, 2016
Cover price: $2.99
Pages: 36 (including cover)
Content: Editorial-61.1%, Advertising-38.9%
Format: Standard, saddle-stiched, glossy paper
 

“The Lies, Part One” (20 pages)
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Liam Sharp
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Jodi Wynne
Editors: Chris Conroy and Mark Doyle; Dave Wielgosz (asst.); Bob Harras (chief)
 

Other features: Cover (1 pg); "DC All Access" promo page (1 pg)

STORY GRADE: B–
ISSUE SCORE: 68.5
 

THE BOTTOM LINE (UP TOP): Well drawn and well told, but basically, nothing happens. This entire story could have been done in about three pages, making what we get not really worth the money. **MILDLY RECOMMENDED**

STORY SYNOPSIS: While Steve Trevor tracks down a warlord named Cadulo in the African nation of Bwunda at the behest of his commander Etta D. Candy — discovering along the way a village where all the young men have been cut down and the girls abducted — Wonder Woman, for whom he still pines, enters the the same county looking for answers to the mystery behind her changing memories (as seen in Wonder Woman: Rebirth, No. 1). Her search brings her into battle with hyena-men and face-to-face with Barbara Ann Minerva, a.k.a. The Cheetah.

Roll Call:
Wonder Woman, Commander Etta D. Candy, Master Chief Steve Rogers, Cheetah (cameo), Echo Team (1st app.)
 
COVER (5.75):
It’s a decent enough drawing of Wonder Woman, which shows off her new costume, inspired by the classic Greek panoply. But its just a pose. A better cover image, I think, would have been some variation of one of the interior splash pages (Wonder Woman walking through the jungle seeming unaware she’s being watched, or hyena-men leaping off a cliff at her), or,better still, a variation of the large panel on Page 10, with Wonder Woman appearing shocked at the image of a giant throne of skeletons. It’s also worth noting that, on the standard cover, three of the characters depicted appear nowhere in the book, while the presence of another, albeit small and in shadow, completely gives away the last page reveal.
That said, I do like the new trade dress (I wonder if “Rebirth” will remain on covers as long as “New 52” did?) I also like that, at long last, the UPC box has been slimmed down. Short of putting it on the back cover, that’s about the best thing that could have been done.
There’s also a Frank Cho cover, which is essentially Brandy (of Liberty Meadows fame) posing in a Wonder Woman cosplay. But it’s Frank Cho, so probably the cover you want. 

PLOT (6.25):
Wonder Woman’s half of the story is essentially pointless and drawn out such that, really, nothing happens other than a nice walk though the jungle. She appears three times, saying at each stage that she just wants an audience with some unknown entity, presumably a god of some sort. At the first stage she’s followed by native warriors, at the second by what appears to be warriors wearing hyena-like head gear, and at the third by actual hyena-men hybrids, whom she fights, before finally encountering the object of her quest, the most recent iteration of The Cheetah. So spoiler there; we saw her on the cover. And while this is the Barbara Ann Minerva version, she presumably got some sort of Rebirth upgrade to jungle-goddess status. Why Wonder Woman needs to travel deep into the jungle mountains to find Cheetah is unknown. Don’t cheetahs live out on the Savannah? That appears to be where Steve Trevor is, although the fact that he and Wonder Woman are both in Bwunda appears to be a coincidence that happens only because the plot requires them to be together for the eventual awkward meeting foreshadowed by Trevor mooning over an old photo of her (more on that under the Script section).

It is a little unclear to me if the tribesmen seen following Wonder Woman at her first warning are the same half- and full-heyena men she encounters later, slowly evolving as our Amazonian princess descends further and further into Dante's Jungle, or if they are different groups of followers, and eventual attackers, each time. I presume it's the former, but a reader could be excused for thinking the latter.

We don’t get much on why Trevor & Co. are after Cadulo — hes' referenced as a kind of Somali warlord, but he only has 18 men defending him against Trevor's Echo Team — or why Wonder Woman might he interested in that operation, other than Commander Candy saying he's the kind of bad guy Wonder Woman likes to take down. Of course, the real reason is to set up tension when Etta Candy suspects Trevor might have compromised operational security by telling Wonder Woman what he’s up to in-country. You’d think Etta would welcome some heroic intervention, so it’ll be interesting to see if, somewhere down the line, we discover why Trevor’s operation has to be kept secret from Wonder Woman. But, we know she’ll get involved, in part because the kidnapping of an entire village of young women by Cadulo — which seemed to come as a shock to Trevor, so that’s presumably not the sole reason he’s after the dude — will give WW a reason to get involved, to fight for their rights in her satin tights, and all that jazz. 

SCRIPT (6.75):
I could have used a more during the Wonder Woman scenes than continued repetition of her non-hostile intentions. Since we see Cheetah on the cover, why not have Wonder Woman go a little into why she’s looking for Cheetah specifically, since it’s not clear to me why the villainess is her first recourse when unable to located Themyscria. 

I also was a little confused by Etta Candy’s radio chatter. I actually had go back after a couple of pages when read it again, as it was not clear to me who was “Picket-Actual” and who was “Echo--Alpha.” That’s probably my misread though, as it made more sense the second time around. For what its worth, in my radio training as a volunteer firefighter, we were always told to announce who we were trying to contact first, then our own call sign. That's because, in the heat and confusion of the moment, it's natural to tune out a lot of radio traffic and not start active listening until your own sign is called, in which case you might have missed who was talking to you, adding fateful seconds for a round of clarification. So, by that logic, Etta did it wrong. But, hey, she's new on the job.
Beyond that, however, the script was decent enough, as brief as it was. The necessary exposition was handled well  and the interplay between Candy and Trevor worked well. I especially like them reverting to first names as their discussion got more heated, indicating a greater familiarity than their subordinates might suppose. Of course, Candy addresses all of the peons by first name, which is a telling character trait, possibly her building loyalty with subordinates, whereas Amnda Waller might not even know, much less care, about the worker bees. But she and Trevor start off on by-the-numbers rank, making the transition to to first names noticeable, and an interesting juxtaposition with the underlings, who remain as formal with Candy as she is informal with them.

On that note, we have to presume that Trevor & Co. have been in-country for some time, not just because of the length of Steve’s beard, but because he lets the whole crew, or at least Dave, see him mooning over Wonder Woman. I would normally expect him to be a lot more closed off, emotionally, than that. Sadly, though balloons are passe in comic books, so Trevor had to express his feelings out loud. 

LAYOUT (8.25):
The artwork, think, is the nicest thing about this book, and the layout generally works well to advance the story. Greg Rucka has reportedly said online he expects artist Liam Sharp to become the breakout star of the Rebirth era. I don’t doubt that and, frankly, he’s the main reason I’m sticking around.


The only kind of weak links on the layout come when Etta Candy is introduced. There are a lot of medium horizon shots that I might have liked to see varied to some degree. A bit of a worm’s-eye as Candy is flashing her badge at the guards might have invested her with some added authority. Also, when we enter the control room, I would have preferred for the large panel to be, well, larger, with more of a sweeping vista of the scope of operations hidden below that nondescript warehouse. That would have made the three headshots of Candy in rapid succession necessarily smaller, but that's preferable as they contain a lot of empty space that doesn’t really add anything (it’s almost like Sharp thought more dialogue would be going there than ultimately did), while the facial expressions are not varied enough to really justify chewing up half the page. The same is true two pages later, and it's surprising that three successive headshots of Candy are used again, from essentially the same angle. 

Finally, the last panel on that page should have been a bird’s-eye view, to add some detachment and to draw the reader out of the scene in preparation for the cut to Travor & Co, which, sadly, is maybe the weakest of the book. I’d have preferred a more Kirbyesque spread, or maybe even a Schomburg-like slam-bang action tableau, that might have given more of a visceral feel for the scope of the battle, as a splash-page close-up of Trevor and his crew doesn’t make it appear as if they’re nearly as otherwise occupied as he says they are. 

Wonder Woman, No. 1, Pages 4-5 — August 2016.
Art by Liam Sharp, colors by Laura Martin. © DC Comics.
ART (9.00):
As I noted, the art is really quite good. Sharp’s Wonder Woman is sensual without being a big-bosomed caricature. Meanwhile, his secondary characters are just caricatured enough to make them interesting to look at without breaking from the more realistic rendering of Trevor and his special ops crew. And, while the soldiers' uniforms are a little busy, the folding patterns of the material shows  Sharp has spent time studying Burne Hogarth, or something like. Speaking of which, not only is Sharp facile with his line weights, his jungle scenes are as creepy and mysterious as anything this side of Hogarth, or Frank Frazetta. If DC ever has a mind to try a jungle book of some sort, whether it’s Congo Bill, or B’Wana Beast; Gorilla City or Vixen, Sharp most definitely gets my nod for the art chores.


EDITING (4.00):
Okay, well, here is where we fell down a bit. To my mind, our erstwhile editors should have asked Rucka to give us more during the Wonder Woman scenes. We either needed more from her in terms of dialogue (although it’s true talking to herself much more than she did could have come off as terribly clunky), or else more of the fight scenes. Instead, we open with full pages that are nothing more than Wonder Woman entering the jungle. And, as pretty as they are, they do nothing — especially the double-page spread of Wonder Woman jumping off the top of the waterfall — to advance the story. 

Comics is a form of sudden fiction. We only have 20 pages, in most issues, and, so, every page has to add something to the whole in terms of advancing the plot. Otherwise we end up with a too-quick read that leaves us feeling cheated. If it were me, I would have had Rucka and Sharp condense the first three pages into one, then have a title page of Wonder Woman before the throne of skulls, followed by her discovering Cheetah's claw marks on it. That would have excised the page with regular natives, and I get they were they as a meta-textual way of showing Wonder Woman’s Dante-like journey, but they were never seen again — unless they evolved into the hyena-men — and really added nothing that could not have been done with an extra line of script, given that they offered her no resistance. Better to get to the hyena-men and some rough-n-tumble. 

Of course it would not have been advisable to have two splash pages in a row, and the hyena-men launching themselves at Wonder Woman is a pretty cool page. So cool, in fact, I’d have cut it from the story and made some form of it the cover, which, I think, would have been much more compelling to the casual reader and potential buyer than the static cover shot we get instead of Wonder Woman holding her sword aloft.

I also think ye editors could have taken more care when introducing Etta Candy. I, for one, was not aware the character had been quota’d during the New 52 era, and thought at first I was looking at an Amanda Waller who'd gone back on the carbs, even if she seemed inexplicably sweet to her subordinates. It was a couple of pages later when I thought, you know, I better go back and look more closely at that panel where she sticks her security badge in the control room lock, ‘cause somethin’ don’t see right. Sure enough, NOT Waller. So, the editors should have taken care to expect some new readers with the relaunch, and either been less coy with the the reveal of the character’s name (the lettering on that card WAS kind of tiny) or else asked Sharp for an updated character design that made her look less like Waller, although I guess maybe the dredlock ponytail was supposed to be my clue.


Wonder Woman, No. 1, Page 15 —
August 2016. Art by Liam Sharp, colors
by Laura Martin. © DC Comics.
PRODUCTION (8.25)
Generally high marks here. Most modern comics get a decent score almost be default, and I add extra points for the new DC logo and thinner UPC box. Laura Martin’s colors are very nice, especially during the jungle scenes while her skin tone shading adds depth without being distracting. My only quibble is that she chooses a brown sky for the Tessana battle scenes. I suppose that was to put across the haze of war, but I would have preferred a bright sky and less muted colors on Trevor et. al. to better contrast the open-air battle with the comparatively more claustrophobic Picket control room. I mean, it’s a desert city, after all, something colored more like the gleaming daytime of
Blackhawk Down or The Hurt Locker would have been better, I think. 

Along these lines, the image of Wonder Woman landing in Bwunda, seen on Candy’s phone, should have been bright, primary colors. After all, it's appearing on a screen that’s a light source unto itself, it’s not reflecting the understated gloom of the war room.

Oh, one final knit-pick. In the one panel that is the limit of Wonder Woman’s fight with the hyena-men, the head on the one she’s punching out looks weird. It took me a second, careful look to realize that’s not because Sharp bungled the pose, it’s because Martin colored as a red eye a spot that should have been a fold on its chin. 

DOLLAR VALUE (5.25):  
Not such a high score here, and would be even lower but for DC re-drawing the line at $2.99. At a read time of just 7 1/2 minutes for the main story, and no added material to speak of, this book cost me nearly 40¢ per minute for my time. People often blame other media like movies, tv and video games for siphoning off comic book readership. And while that’s partly true, most overlook the fact that they are not drawing comics readers simply because they are there, they draw comics fans because they are a better value. After all, think how expensive a movie would be if you had to pay 40¢ per minute of screen time to see it, or 40¢ for every minute it took to read a prose novel, or to get through all levels of a video game. Seriously, would you spend $48 on a two-hour movie? Sure, you might, but it’d have to be a REALLY good movie. 

COLLECTIBILITY (7.25):
Here the score goes up a bit. I don’t expect this issue to hit the same price levels the New 52
Batman #1 did, but it is the start of a significant new era, if Rucka and Sharp can maintain or even improve their product. The New 52 Wonder Woman, as many online fans have noted, started strong but spun out pretty quickly. Still, even with just this issue and the Wonder Woman: Rebirth one-shot to go on, I think this is a run I’ll still want in my collection 20 years from now, and not something I’ll be trying to trade off.

There's also the possibility that Steve Trevor's Echo Team could become significant supporting characters, in which case their first appearance here could add some value. And if any of Trevor's crew in the upcoming Wonder Woman feature film are named Dave, Manny, or Chris, all bets are off. This could quickly become a $50 book!

GOSH-WOW (7.75):
There really wasn’t much in the story, or the script, that awoke my inner 12 year old. But the creepification of Sharp’s jungle scenes, coupled with Martin’s coloring of them, not to mention Sharp’s depiction of Wonder Woman herself, had me lingering over many panels in a way I have rarely done in recent years. So, good job!


PARTING THOUGHTS (a.ka. The Wist List):
Unless things go seriously south, I’m probably on this title for as long as Sharp is. That said, the editors have got to demand that Ruck provide more plot per issue. I make decisions every month about what to cut from my pull list and what to keep, and those books that are the quickest reads, unless they come with something else to recommend them to my spending dollar, tend to slide off the list first.


One way of doing this might be to leave the pacing alone, as decompressed as it is in places, and add extra editorial material in place of at least some of the house ads. I mean, is there a real need from a sales and promotion standpoint for SIX full-page house ads? Is there even one comics fan today who, having bought this book, is going to see an ad inside it and say, “DC is also putting out a Rebirth version of Red Hood and the Outlaws? I did not know that. I’ll have to check it out!” Better to cut one or two of those ads for things that will flesh out the book, because any time a standard-sized comic book takes up less than 20 minutes of my time, I feel cheated. Adding a letters column is a no-brainer, but this issue also could have used a feature on the history of the Cheetah and her development as Wonder Woman’s arch-nemesis, to help drive back-issue sales (healthy comic book shops are in DC’s direct interest) and/or collected edition sales. This issue also very much could have used something like a page from Steve Trevor’s mission report, something that would have complimented the main story by telling us more about the rest of his crew, their ongoing mission, and why Cadulo is such a bad-ass he warrants special ops attention. At the very least, I do hope future issues will tell us more about Trevor’s crew, as I’d like them to be more than window dressing.

Oh, and speaking of Trevor’s unit, it occurs to me the group might easily headline their own title, if DC felt brave enough to try one more stab at an ongoing war book. It would just require a slight change of the the command from Echo Team. 

Promotional tagline: “Taking on those delicate geopolitical tasks even super-heroes can’t handle . . . EASY COMPANY!”




Wonder Woman, No. 1 — August 2016.
Variant cover by Frank Cho. © DC Comics.
DATA ERRATA:  
Pages: 36
Story pages: 20
Other editorial pages: 2
Circulation: TBD

Panels: 97 (4.85 per page)
Words:
795 (39.75 per page)
Story read time: 7:35
All content read time: 8:30

Story cost (cover price/story pages): 14.95¢ per page.
Content cost (cover price/all editorial pages): 14.24¢ per page.
Entertainment cost (cover price/story reading time): 39.45¢ per page.
Total entertainment cost (cover price/all material read time): 35.18¢ per page.
 

Additional material: (2 pages)
• cover ( edition had one freely orderable variant) (1 page)
• “DC All Access” — promo page. (a bit by Paul Dini mentioning the personal experience that led him to write the new graphic novel,
Dark Night: A True Batman Story. (1 page)

Advertising:
All advertising: 14 pages (38.9 percent of the total package) 


Revenue ads: 8 pages (22.2 percent) 
• Schick Hydro razor (inside front cover)
• midtowncomics.com discount on DC Comics — subscription service (full page)
dcbservice.com/instocktrades.com — subscription service/back issue comics (full page)
• comiccollectorlive.com — collecting database app (full page)
• Steve Jackson Games’ Simon’s Cat card game (full page)
• El Rey Network Ultima Lucha Dos: Part 1 season finale (full page)
• Blizzard Entertainment Overwatch [video game] (inside back cover)
• TNT network new series “Animal Kingdom” (outside back cover) 

House ads: 6 pages (6 percent)
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, No. 1 (full page)
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, No. 1 (full page)
Red Hood and the Outlaws, No. 1 (full page)
• Nightwing,
No. 1 (full page)
• Titans,
No. 1 (full page)
• Batgirl,
No. 1 (full page)
That leaves just eight pages of actual revenue-producing ads, or a paltry percent of the book. Really, you want your ad percentage to by up around 40 percent, at least. My newspaper runs 55 percent. Honestly, I wonder how DC is able to move these books profitably at $2.99 per. I I had to guess, I’d say we’re likely to see $3.99 cover prices creeping back in by next summer.
For the record, the paid ads include the following, the first of which says a lot about the current comics fanbase — never would have seen an ad for that in a comic book when I was a kid!

Characters (in order of appearance):
WONDER WOMAN (cover/36 panels/222 words)
• three unnamed jungle tribesman: (1/0)
• COMMANDER ETTA D. CANDY (28/263)
• Leah, assistant to Comm. Candy (10/61)
• Cadulo, presumed to be a Bwandi warlord, mentioned only, said to have 18 soldiers, at least (0/0)
• "Adult Chuck Taine," unnamed worker at The Picket (1/0)
• unnamed security guard at The Picket [male, blond, glasses] (1/0)
• Tomas, security guard at The Picket [male, black] (1/3)
• unnamed male solider at The Picket (1/0)
• Will,  communications supervisor at The Picket (3/7)
• Three unnamed communications agents at The Picket (1/0)
• MASTER CHIEF STEVE TREVOR (cover/21/140)
• Manny, a member of Echo Team [security specialist] (6/5)
• Dave, a member of Echo Team [interpreter] (9/21)
• Chris, member of Echo Team [black male] (5/0)
• Hyena-men [12 seen] (6/17)
• Kama'kasa [Bwandi tribal elder] (7/exact words obscured)
• unnamed Bwandi tribal interpreter (7/41)
• Bwandi villagers [six woman, five wounded men, three children seen] (2/0)
• CHEETAH (cover/4/3)
• Zues (cover only)
• Mars (cover only)
• Queen Hippolyta (cover only)

Settings:
• Bwunda
     • Dkarango Region
          • Banakane rain forest
     • Tessana (city)
     • unnamed village
• The Picket
     • (located on Kirby Road in Langley, Virginia)
• Themyscria (mention only)


Tech, gadgets and cool stuff:
Invisible plane (Nope, Wonder Woman seen flying under her own power)

Key quotes and catchphrases:
"It is my preference to give three warnings. This is your first:" ~ Wonder Woman, p.4
• "You've got a long history with her, Steve." ~ Etta Candy, p.13
• "You came too late. Cadulo has cut out our hearts . . . Cadule took our daughters." ~ Bwundi interpreter, p.17

Sound effects central:
None

Reboot reference kit:
• Bwunda —
First introduced in Birds of Prey: Black Canary/Oracle No. 1 (June 1996), as a sub-Saharan African state led by General Mbarra. It's capital city was said to be M'barraville. One the Young Justice cartoon show, Bwunda was said to be the home of Gorilla City.
Etta Candy — Introduced in Sensation Comics, No. 2 (Feb. 1942) as Wonder Woman's chubby you-go-girl sorority sidekick, Etta was rarely used though the Silver and Bronze ages. She was finally reintroduced in the Copper Age y George Perez as a career Air Force officer and romantic interest, and eventually wife, to Steve Trevor. At the start of DC's New 52 era, Etta was reintroduced as a black woman who worked as Trevor's secretary. She's clearly gotten a promotion.
Steve Trevor It's complicated.
Cheetah — Likewise, it's complicated, but this is clearly an upgraded version of the Barbara Ann Minerva version.

 

Collector Keys:
• First issue of DC Comics' Rebirth era, making this series Wonder Woman, Vol. 6, following:
     • Series One (No. 1, Dec. 1941 — No. 329, Feb. 1986)
     • Series Two (No. 1, Feb. 1987 — No. 226, April 2006)

     • Series Three (No. 1, Aug. 2006 — No. 44, July 2010)
     • Series Four (No. 600, Aug. 2010 — No. 614, Oct. 2011)
          •[note: some sources count this as a continuation of Series One)
     • Series Five (No. 1, Nov. 2011 — No. 52, July 2016)

• For the record, counting all previous issues, including zero, million, and 23-point numberings, would make this issue Wonder Woman No, 672.
• First goddess version of Cheetah (cameo).
• First appearance of Etta Candy as Commander Candy.
• First appearance of Steve Trevor's Echo Team (Manny, Dave and Chris).
• First mention of Cadulo
• First appearance of Kama'kasa.










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